Access Case Shows Need For Family Law Change

The   British government has been reviewing family law for over a year now and is expected to make recommendations about an overhaul of the system soon.  I’ve reported on that process twice previously, but this article tells us a good bit about why the system needs changing and what those changes might look like (Daily Express, 10/23/10).  Or, stated another way, the media are hard about their task of manufacturing consent for policy changes. 
So if you want an idea about the nature of those changes, carefully read and listen to the media and, when you figure out what they’re promoting, you’ll have a good idea of what’s coming. Often enough, that’s not such a good thing as Americans learned around the time of the Viet Nam war and, more recently, the war in Iraq.  But in this case, it seems like the British government may be headed in the right direction (knock on wood).  As I reported earlier, it looks like the new family law will emphasize lower costs and less conflict, all at the expense of attorneys who will likely play a smaller role in the process of divorce and child custody. All of that brings us to the article which describes, sometimes in minute detail, the attempt by a father to get access to his son.  Apparently the mother had been impeding matters and tossing in a bit of parental alienation of the child for good measure.  The upshot?  Deciding the matter took six months and something like £1 million of taxpayers’ money.  The final judgment ran to 173 pages, and all that in a case that the Lord President Lord Hamilton described as “relatively straightforward.”  The mother gave testimony for over 12 days, the father for over seven. In short, this case was an outrage against the British taxpaying public and all people who care about the decent treatment of parents and children by the courts.  Who won?  Well, apparently the dad received some form of access to his son, although, tellingly, the article gives only a faint clue about the actual outcome.  That, plus the fact that the case has been decided for almost a year, and yet the article is only two days old, let readers know that “reporting the news” isn’t what this piece is about. It’s about excoriating the abuse and misuse of parents and children by the family law system and calling for change.  In short, it’s plumping for exactly the type of changes to family law that are in fact on the way. And why not?  The idea that the type of case the article reports on can’t be decided in a day by a magistrate with no input from attorneys is hard to defend.  Face it, it’s just not that complicated in most cases.  Now it’s true that parental alienation issues like the one in the case reported on can be thorny and can require the testimony of experts.  But months and months?  Weeks on the witness stand by a single party?  Please.  However it happened, the case was a gravy train for the attorneys.  Who won?  They did. But the victory may prove to be of the Pyrrhic variety.  It may signal the beginning of the end for the adversary system as a way to decide child custody issues.  And if that’s the case, it’ll be a victory for everyone in the end.

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